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Mixing dark yellows

So I’m work­ing on a still life as a gift for my brother and my sis­ter and law. They used to blow glass (hey, Steve and Linda, if you’re read­ing this—are you ever going to get back to glass again?). Any­way, the sub­ject of the still life is two lovely glass Christ­mas orna­ments that they gave me some time ago. It seems like a nice full-circle kind of gift. (Yes, I know it’s late.)

The two orna­ments are sit­ting on a yel­low com­forter. Since that takes up the fore­ground, mid­dle ground (except for the orna­ments) and back­ground, most of the com­po­si­tion con­sists of yel­low fab­ric. It’s an oil paint­ing on a ges­soed hard­board panel.

On my first pass, I messed up the color of the yel­low. For the lights, I used mostly ochres, espe­cially Doak’s won­der­ful French ochre extra pale. In the darks, I used raw sienna, bunt umber, and raw umber. That was a lot of time pant­ing com­plex folds of fab­ric, and while I was doing it it seemed fine to me. The next day, it just looked wrong. After some thought, I real­ized that I had screwed up the chroma of the darks, mak­ing them too dull. When I focus on the darks, they look pretty low in chroma. But when I painted that dull­ness, it became clear that the over­all rela­tion­ship between the chroma in the darks with the chroma in the light was wrong. That can hap­pen when the dif­fer­ence between one color and another is sub­tle, but repeated through­out a paint­ing. An error that would not be notice­able if it was in only one part of a paint­ing looks really huge if the same prob­lem repeats itself over and over.

So I went back over the fab­ric parts of the paint­ing (after wet sand­ing for good adhe­sion from one layer to the next) and re-painted, pay­ing more care­ful atten­tion to chroma. For darks, I used yel­low ochre, raw sienna, burnt sienna, and ultra­ma­rine blue instead of umbers. That worked much better.

I am no hater of umbers; for really low-chroma yel­lows, they are hard to beat (some artists think that umbers are “dead­en­ing” col­ors just like black is pur­ported to be). But in this case, they were not the right tool for the job.

Posted in color, oil painting, painting, personal.

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2 Responses

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  1. Angel says

    Hi its me again! I do not live in NY, how can I get R.Doak’s oil paints? Its strange that he doesnt have a web­site. Could you post a cou­ple of swatches on this web­site, I really would like to see what his paints look like, at least in your basic palette(and please, include a ver­mil­ion). Then, I could call him and order.(thanks a million!)

  2. David says


    I gave con­tact info on Robert Doak in this post.

    I’ll try to post some sam­ples soon.

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